Power is knowledge

Rethinking the Ways We Gather Knowledge

June 10, 2020
The pandemic-prompted shift from live to virtual events has yielded a number of surprises.

A number of years ago, I was watching a PowerPoint presentation in a conference room in Amsterdam. It was the same presentation I’d seem a few months earlier in a conference room in Orlando. And I remember thinking, “I could be anywhere in the world right now watching this talk.”

The allure of business travel is largely for people who don’t do a lot of business travel. “You get to go to all of these places,” people say to me with a tinge of envy, and I remind them that most of what we see is airports, hotel rooms and convention centers.

And yet we gather at large venues and small throughout the world to share ideas, showcase new products and gather knowledge about our profession. It is about building, maintaining and enhancing relationships. It is a very people-centric pursuit. And I would not be telling the whole truth if I didn’t admit they were occasionally fun and mostly worthwhile.

One of the most fundamental ways our world has changed in the last six months is how and why—and above all, where—we gather. For business purposes, we now find ourselves attending trade events in front of a computer screen at a virtual trade show. And even as the live events vanish in the cloud of COVID-19, we still want more information. The business of trade events has been altered; the desire to do our jobs better has not. We all have a business to run.

In even-numbered years, I have two particular events I look forward to attending. Hannover Messe is 4,272 miles from Chicago as Lufthansa flies, while IMTS is just down the expressway from my house. Both are the premier events of their kind, and both deliver the best of technology and culture.

This year, both have been sidelined by the pandemic. Both have morphed into virtual events, and both events will continue their mission of putting the latest technology and the most cutting-edge strategies in front of their audience. Our technology has handled the increased burden; it’s been okay.

I was sitting in my home office the other morning, reviewing an on-demand presentation at PTC’s LiveWorx event and delighting in the ability to put the speaker on pause while my note-taking caught up to the presentation. I also could put the speaker on pause while I went to the kitchen to refresh my coffee, which might be considered a side benefit.

On-demand information is nothing new for Machine Design: Besides our magazine and newsletters, we have a deep, rich and searchable database of articles available for your review anywhere in the world and a library of webcasts available for review at your leisure. All you have to do is click.

One other thought that I have considered during this time is that in many ways, we have become closer by all keeping our distance. The truth is that we have adapted, we have adopted new technology and we have reconsidered what we want from events. That reconsideration will continue over the next few years, and it will be interesting to see how we choose to move forward.

While the virtual event is here to stay, I think at the right time we will come back together for that personal approach to business. The handshakes and business card exchange may become a thing of the past, but we still want to look each other in the eye in three dimensions. For all its wonder, my computer still doesn’t smile back at me.

And in Hannover, there is no such thing as a virtual bratwurst, and in Chicago, there certainly is no such thing as a virtual deep-dish pizza.

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